The Assumption of Mary

On this feast day of August 15th, I found myself meditating and contemplating our blessed mother, the Virgin Mary.  In our catholic tradition, we believe the Assumption Day commemorates the belief that when Mary died, purely and holy as she was, her body was “assumed” into heaven to be reunited with her soul, instead of going through the natural process of physical death and decay.  For us, in our state of imperfection, it becomes an invitation that we too can hope for and expect the resurrection of our bodies at the appropriate time so that our bodies can be reunited with our souls.

One of the more pleasant memories from my monthly meetings with my late spiritual director Father Fitz (Msgr. William Fitzgerald, 1931-2015) was sitting in a small alcove in his “house of discernment,” a house for students contemplating the priesthood, which lent for very personal conversations and silent prayer.  Just off to my left on one of the walls was a painting of Mary and Eve.  This original work was a crayon and pencil drawing created by Sister Grace Remington, OCSO, of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey.  I found the artwork so interesting in that Eve, represented by our fallen nature, so prone to making mistakes as we are often seduced by the material world and the dark side, was being consoled by Mary, who displays by her facial expression so much hope and mercy.  Mary looks at Eve with love, placing her right hand on Eve’s shoulder to soothe her and console her, while she takes her left hand to grab Eve’s left hand and places it on Mary’s womb, trying to help her connect with our Lord Jesus Christ.   Consider reading  Mary and Eve by Garrett Johnson to get a more in-depth understanding of this painting.  Using this picture as inspiration, I found myself in meditation and contemplation.

In the Jesuit style of prayer, I placed myself in a garden as a bystander, observing the interaction of Mary and Eve.  It is early morning, and the air feels a little humid on my arms, but there’s a freshness and crispness to the air while I breathe the wet bark of the trees and sweet smell of the lilies.  The green grass hovers the land and the dew makes my sandals wet.  I can hear the buzzing of bumble bees, the sharp peek and yeep of the robin, and the three-second, crescendo and decrescendo whistle song of the cardinals.  The rays of sun are just popping through the trees as they illuminate Mary and Eve in the middle of the grass.

I can relate with Eve.  The serpent has wrapped itself on her legs, dragging down her movement towards spiritual development and closeness with God.  Good and evil reside in me, and I struggle daily to do what is right.  I often don’t see with the eyes or hear with the ears of the heart so that I can be in tune with God.  Deep down, my heart and soul want to abide by God, but I get distracted often with what surrounds me.  In this state, I often feel the tug back and forth between doing the right thing and sometimes falling because I am impatient, or maybe I’m too quick to jump to a conclusion.

You can see from the painting that Eve feels sorrowful, perhaps ashamed.  Don’t we feel the same when we fall short of doing what is right?  Perhaps, I may feel hopeless and despair because pride gets in the way.  It becomes hard to accept my fault and I am tempted to hide behind the trees when God comes into the garden, calling out for me, “where are you?”

As depicted in the picture, Mary comes to me as she comes to Eve.  She places her hand on my shoulder and consoles me.   She takes my hand and has me touch her womb so that I can feel her son, Jesus.  It is an invitation for me to be in relationship with the Son of Man.

For as much devotion as we Catholics have to Mary, we really don’t know much about her from biblical readings.  And to the point, as Thomas Merton explains in chapter 23, “The Woman Clothed with the Sun,” in New Seeds of Contemplation, “She remains hidden.”  It is in this state of hiddenness where she exhibits her poverty in loving submission to the Lord, in pure obedience of faith.  This transparency allows her “to be the perfect instrument of God, and nothing else but His instrument.”  It is in this transparency that God flows through Mary, so pure with love and mercy.  It would be easy to think that Mary is in God and God is in Mary.

Lately, I have been feeling a pull to understand Mary better and pray to her that she may intercede on my behalf before God.  I read several years ago True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis De Montfort (1673-1716) and pulled it out again when we read in our men’s prayer group the chapter from Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.  As the back cover of the book states, “it explains the wonderful spiritual effects it can bring to a person as they search for sanctity and salvation.”  He emphasizes that Mary remains hidden and transparent as she brings us closer to her son, the Word incarnate.  And as St. Louis De Montfort explains, “the more the Holy Ghost finds Mary, his dear and inseparable spouse, in any soul, the more active and mighty He becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul, and that soul in Jesus Christ.”

This concept of “nothingness” is well explained by St. John of The Cross.  In his Ascent to Mount Carmel, he draws a picture and uses terms to explain how the soul can reach the top of Mount Carmel, where “only the honor and glory of God dwells in this mount.”  On either side of the middle aisle going to the top of the mount are terms that he considers undesirable.  On the left he states, “the more I desired to possess them (goods of heaven, glory, joy, knowledge, consolation, rest), the less I had them.”  And on the right side of the graph he states, “the more I desired to seek them (goods of earth, possessions, joy, knowledge, consolation, rest), the less I had them.”  In the middle aisle on the way to the top of the mount, he writes, “nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.”  He wrote “nothing” six times, that’s how much poverty he felt was needed to experience God.

There were two key concepts that I gathered from Thomas Merton’s chapter:

  • Mary’s greatest glory was having nothing of her own, retaining nothing of a “self” that could glory in anything for her own sake. She placed no obstacle to the mercy of God and in no way resisted His love and His will.  He was able to accomplish His will perfectly in her.
  • All our sanctity depends on her maternal love. The ones she desires to share the joy of her own poverty and simplicity, the ones she wills to be hidden as she is hidden, are the ones who share her closeness to God.

As St. Louis De Montfort explains, we need Mary to be an example for us so that we can attain salvation, “and still the more necessary to those called to a special perfection.”  In addition, we can lean on Mary as our mother of humanity so she can bring us closer to Jesus: “Jesus Christ is the last end of devotion to Mary.”

With these thoughts, we celebrate Mary’s assumption to Heaven.  It is our hope that we too one day, by the grace of God, can dwell where she is.  As Merton states, “if human nature is glorified in her, it is because God desires it to be glorified in us too.”

References:

  1. https://catholic-link.org/mary-and-eve/.  Garrett Johnson
  2. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. New Direction Books, 2007.  Original copyright by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1961.
  3. True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, Tan Books & Publishers, Inc., 1985. Copyright 1941 by the Fathers of the Company of Mary.
  4. The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. Institute of Carmelite Studies, ICS Publications, 1991.

The Life in Christ

In our prayer group this past week, we had an opportunity to read Chapter 22, The Life in Christ, from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.  It was a chapter rich with concepts as we discussed the mystery of Christ living in us.  There were some basic points that I gathered from the beginning of the chapter:

  • We respond in faith and charity to his love for us. God always initiates God’s love for us as we are God’s children.  It is up to us to respond to this call.
  • There is a supernatural union of our souls with His indwelling Divine Person. This is one of the harder concepts to accept and understand as we go to mass and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • We participate in His divine sonship and nature. Being sons and daughters of God, made in God’s image, we too get to embrace our divine nature if we are willing to accept this concept.  Acknowledging that we make mistakes in our lives, hopefully we can be merciful with ourselves with God’s love, and then be merciful to others around us as God is merciful with them too.

Taking a trip with the Bible

As I contemplated Jesus living with me, being in me, I was taken to  Chapter 17 (BibleGateway)  in the Gospel of John.  Jesus is participating with the apostles in the last supper and has just explained to them that he must depart so the Holy Spirit can come to them (Chapter 16).  As we head into the next chapter, it’s almost as if Jesus takes a deep breath and exhales, and then finds himself in gratitude and does his Highly Priestly prayer.  Here, I get to see how Jesus prays for me that we may be one with God the Father and God the Son:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Reflecting with Thomas Merton and Jesus

We become a new person, mystically and spiritually as one identity, who is at once Christ and me.  This union is the work of the Holy Spirit of Love.  Christ himself becomes the source and principle of divine life in me.

The challenges of life can make it hard to understand this mystical union.  When I contrast pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow, living in my body and dying a bodily death, it’s easy to lose faith.

It can be the hardest thing in life to rise above what seems to be external to me: work, friends, politics, the environment, financial security, war, poverty, among other challenges in life.  Not that they are not important to deal with as we try to live as a community, but they are external to my interior life.

For me to live in the joy of God, I must let my soul accommodate to God’s will.  As Thomas Merton says, “souls are like wax waiting for a seal.  By themselves, they have no special identity.  Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeliness to God in Christ.”

In addition to Merton, other saints (St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila) talk about a fire of purification so that our souls and will line up with God’s will.  There is a heat associated with this fire and it is easy to run away from it.  We don’t like it, sometimes if feels too hot.  It may seem like this is a major sacrifice and the easy way out is to continue to enjoy life on the surface.  But on the surface, we experience that contrast of pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow.

Interestingly enough, this sacrifice is commonly viewed as a hardship, a moral act, a work of virtue.  These thoughts and feelings come because we commonly feel the heat and fire of purification.  But it is Christ coming to me and dwelling in me as a mystical union that is the actual sacrifice, not the pain that I may endure during this process.  As Merton states, this sacred sacrifice “effects a divine and religious transformation in the worshiper, thus consecrating and uniting him more closely to God.”  If pain and discomfort is felt in this process, it is an incidental occurrence in proportion to our weakness and fallen nature along with its corresponding will power as in comes into conflict with God’s will.

When I receive the body of Christ, I experience this mystical union so that Christ and I become one identity.  In this mystical union, I experience the mystery of the Cross and with it, the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus.  This gives me hope and helps me look forward to my redemptive death and resurrection.  And when I attend mass, I do so in communion with my friends and relatives, who together as one body in Christ, we experience this mystical sacramental union in Christian charity and with the love of the Holy Spirit.

This mystical union transforms me, it changes my substance of who I am.  With this change, I move closer to the person God meant for me to be, fulfilling God’s promise that I can be God’s son imparting love, charity, and mercy to those around me.  By being their brother, I can help people become who they are meant to be, sharing God’s love in this process as God loves you as a son and daughter.

References

  1. New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton.  New Directions Book, 2007.  Original Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
  2. Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/

So, You’re going to be a new parent?

First and foremost, congratulations!  You are going to be a new parent!

As you approach your baby’s due date, it is hard to believe the time has finally come. It’s common to experience a wide range of emotions at this time, including feelings of excitement to anxiety, and from confidence to feelings of insecurity. All of these thoughts and feelings are very normal!

It is certainly a time to rejoice, but just like any new adventure in life, there are always challenges. Here are some tips to consider as you get ready for the arrival of your new infant.

Take Care of Yourself Physically

Look at taking care of your new baby as a long run rather than a sprint. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Eat properly, healthy and at the right times. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids. Sometimes running low on fluids can affect our stamina, which can cause fatigue.
  • Sleep whenever you have the opportunity, particularly when the baby sleeps. It’s okay to take naps during the day because you will be up in the middle of the night with feedings and diaper changes.
  • Go for walks or try to exercise. Not only will this help you with your overall stamina, but it will be a good mental break. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s orders, and maintain a level of endurance close to the level you had before giving birth.

Take Care of Yourself Mentally

Treat yourself and your partner with kindness. It’s common for both of you to have anxieties at the beginning as your baby did not come with a manual. Here are some tips on how to navigate and deal with your uncertainties at the beginning:

  • Trust your instinct and adjust your expectations. Know that you are going to make mistakes and it will be okay. I find it amazing how resilient babies are despite the mistakes we make as parents.
  • Don’t forget to improvise on plan B. I heard this saying once and it has become a good way for me to operate in life. Sometimes our best laid plans don’t work out for reasons unforeseen. I then move to plan B and something else comes up that makes me improvise on that plan before everything works out. It takes patience!
  • Expect stress and therefore, learn to build resilience. Develop a belief that you can do it and before you know it, you will be conquering mountains!
  • Acknowledge there may be some feelings of uncertainty as you start to feel tired after the first four to six weeks of your baby being home. There’s an expectation you should be “happy” all the time, as everybody seems to be happy for you. However, you may also be wondering, “I can’t believe we are doing this.” You are not the only one to feel this way at this stage, and it will pass as your baby starts to become social and interact with you.
  • As a new parent, you are going to transform personally and will leave behind a little of that care-free person you used to be. Remind yourself, it’s okay to change.
  • Find your support group and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will be some advice that makes sense to you, and some that will not. Use your common sense and acknowledge your limits on certain types of advice to know when to take it and when to leave it.

What Kind of Milk to Use?

Trying to decide between breast milk and formula can sometimes be a challenge. For some moms, this is not an issue as they may immediately feel comfortable with breastfeeding. However, for other moms and families this can be a challenge as there may be some uncertainty towards breastfeeding. Science has shown that breast milk is superior to infant formula, but the advances made on the development of formula has brought it pretty close to breast milk.

Rest assured, babies can grow up healthy whether on breast milk or on formula. In fact, if you were to line up a bunch of five-year-old’s going to kindergarten, you will not be able to separate who was breastfed and who was formula-fed.

Baby Development

It’s a good idea to understand baby development for the first few months as you gradually get physically and emotionally tired. Here are some key points:

  • The basics of baby care the first four to six weeks is about feeding, burping the baby, changing the diaper, and then having the baby go back to sleep. It’s easy to get physically exhausted doing this 24 hour a day, seven days a week. But right around four to six weeks of age, your baby will start to smile socially at you and will begin to communicate with you by making cooing sounds. This is exciting and adds a new dimension to your bond that makes parenting worth it!
  • Look forward to bonding with your baby. Similar to dating, you can learn about the baby’s temperament early on and what soothes them. Knowing how easily they can calm down after a noise (we call this habituation) and whether there were any difficulties during the pregnancy can help determine how noisy to let the house be. Stressful pregnancies, especially if drugs were involved, can lead to a baby that may “stress out” easily. This infant may need a quiet home for some time to gradually allow them to handle noise and stresses in the household. Some infants’ temperaments are such that, despite a normal pregnancy, they become irritated easily. These infants also may need to have their “daily dose” of household energy gradually increased, allowing the infant to adjust with time.
  • To create a relaxed and quiet environment in the house, try playing classical music. Not only will this be good for the baby, but you may also find yourself relaxed too!
  • Things will get easier after the first two months as your baby becomes more social and learns how to interact with you. In addition, after approximately four months of age, you can expect your baby to clock about 6-8 hours of sleep at night as they have doubled their birth weight and built up enough baby fat to maintain their blood sugar through part of the night.

Take Care of Your Partner

When parenting with a partner, working as a team is key to providing the best care possible for your baby. This means digging deeper into getting to know each other and trying to understand how you each react under certain circumstances. It is easy to accidently exclude your partner while taking care of the baby as you may subconsciously be thinking your way is better. Or it may be easy for you to become defensive as your partner suggests another option on handling a problem. Here are some questions to consider as you try to better understand one another and how you will blend your experiences/beliefs as you take care of your baby:

  • What was your home life like when you were a child?
  • How did your parents raise you?
  • How did your parents act when they ran out of patience?
  • Did your parents ever spank?
  • Did your parents have a good technique for handling stress?
  • Were both your parents involved in raising the children or was it a single parent mission?
  • Did your parents have any problems with anxiety or depression, and how did they cope with these mental health issues?

How About Daycare?

Planning daycare can be difficult. Dealing with the pain of separation is hard to measure as you contemplate your financial and professional needs. It’s common to experience feelings of anxiety as you explore daycare options. There is no correct decision, but only the one that suits your family, as stated by Robin McClure in Very Well Family, and as you gather information from family and friends. However, having a plan in place will relieve some stress as you near that time. And don’t forget, sometimes we must improvise on plan B!

Last but not least is one of my all-time favorite tips of advice: Don’t forget to keep dating! When parenting with a partner, the two of you are most important to each other and you need to continue to be on solid ground, making each other feel special.

If you have any questions or concern, your child’s pediatrician a call! Don’t have a pediatrician yet? Find one at bronsonhealth.com/find-a-doc.

This article was first published at https://www.bronsonhealth.com/news/so-youre-going-to-be-a-new-parent/

References

Sacred Heart Of Jesus Round Up

The month of June is that time of the year where we can contemplate on the boundless and passionate love that Jesus has for us.  As I reflected on my integrity and humility, I decided to write and post a blog in Finding my Integrity with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

I have been gradually learning about www.catholicsonline.com and have discovered a great social media to learn more about the ways we can express our love for God.  From quilts to books to shirts and coffee mugs, we can surround ourselves with all things God.  Celebrating this month with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, here a few more posts to look at.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Quilt Pattern by Jen Frost

Her talent for quilts is remarkable! Visit her site Faith and Fabric Design to learn about what the Sacred Heart of Jesus means to her and learn more about quilts for other occasions.

Live speakers with Lisa Martinez and Alyssa Sanchez

Lisa and Alyssa have a June program on Saints of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with live speakers on 6/6, 6/13, and 6/20 (YouTube promo https://youtu.be/TD8Syx6p_Qc ).  Little with Great Love  also showcases several of their art and products (art print, pillows, embroidered hats, phone cases, t-shirts).

You can read Alyssa Sanchez’s post at Sacred Heart Round Up

What is the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Andrea Frey

Check out her post in 7 Must Read Posts About the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Catholic365

Amy Brooks and Prayer

Amy shares with us a very personal and special prayer in  PrayerWineChocholate .  Also, visit her site for books she has written for girls and boys to journal at Journal for Catholic Girls and Journal for Catholic Boys

The Sacred Heart and Michelle Nott

Michelle shares with us her experiences of moving as a youngster while her father was in the military on her site Raising Small Things with Great Love .  Her one constant in her moves was having a crucifix and a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you by Monica McConkey

Monica shares with us ways to stay in prayer during the day.  As she states in Sacred Heart of Jesus I Trust in You , “We are called to pray “Jesus, I trust in You” throughout the day, especially during times of struggle or doubt or fear.”

Development in your six-month old

At six-months-old, your baby is rapidly developing with new skills!

It’s Memorial Day weekend and your parents have decided to visit with you, your spouse, and little six-month-old Maggie. The trip from the east side of the state is two hours long but they are here, ringing the doorbell and excited to see their two favorite girls. You exclaim to Maggie that Nana and Papa are here, but she just looks at you. You pick up Maggie and upon opening the front door, you feel your heart fill with joy as you haven’t seen your parents in a couple of months. Nana flashes a huge smile, opens her arms and with a long, melodic “Hello” gives you a hug and takes Maggie. Papa relishes the moment as he sees Maggie smile, hold her neck and trunk steady while she uses her right hand to touch Nana’s face and then proceeds to bounce up and down in Nana’s arms.

The joys and wonders of a six-month-old are hard to measure. You just simply feel it in your heart and wonder how did she so quickly come to be this person that just six months ago was a bundle of joy that cried for milk and very quickly went back to sleep. Not only did she double her birth weight at four months of age and grew in length an extra six inches, but her brain has been multiplying nerve cells at a very rapid pace, also hard to measure.

The bond that you and your spouse have created with Maggie feels comfortable and secure, one that has been building since she was born. Whereas those initial days were fraught with fatigue, insecurity with not knowing what to do, and sometimes reacting in a panic, uncertain if her cry signaled a real hurt or she was just tired and ornery, you both now communicate with real purpose on how to take care of her and how to plan for the day. You both have now grown as a couple and feel more comfortable in your roles as parents. Interestingly enough, Maggie has picked up that you communicate with each other using words and facial expressions.

Speech Development

Speech development begins to manifest itself around four to six weeks of age with cooing. You probably remember how exhausted you felt that first month where all she did was wake up, cry, have her diaper changed, feed, burp and then she was back to sleep. After about two to four hours of sleeping, the cycle would repeat itself… 24 hours a day! You are giving and giving, and gradually become physically and emotionally tired from the lack of good sleep. Then, one day around four to six weeks of age, she socially smiles at you and coos. She is now giving back to you, and it feels wonderful! And so begins your mutual interaction where sometimes it felt like she was telling you of her wonderful day by rhythmically cooing in a sweet melodic tune.

Around four months of age, you might remember, she began to make “raspberry” sounds and spewing spit as she exercised her lips, her diaphragm, and her lungs to make sounds. By six months, she has now started to put two syllable words together without any special, social connotation: da-da-da-da, mum-mum-mum-mum or ba-ba-ba-ba. What’s interesting is that you have gotten excited by her calling out mum-mum-mum. She gradually will make a mental note that she gets your attention when she says that and will later, by nine months to one year of age, give a social meaning to it, and so begins the building of her vocabulary.

Cognitive Development

Another interesting aspect of her using her voice (with crying) is that she is cognitively learning how to solve problems. When crying at first was used as a means of survival (I am hungry), now she has been using it to get your attention. At this age, Maggie is beginning to expect responses from you and your spouse when she cries. In addition, she is learning that she can produce a response from either of you when she cries. Have you heard her “fake cry?” It is good to use proper language with the right tone when you respond to her, rather than talking down to her in a “baby voice.” She will learn to speak more clearly this way.

In addition to using her voice, she has been using her hands to better explore objects. She must mouth and taste them to begin to form concepts in her brain as to what these things are. She likes to touch or grab everything.

The world around her is very interesting as her vision has improved. A newborn’s vision is about 20/400 so they can perceive light, but everything is very blurry. Slowly they begin to form concepts in their brain about straight lines and round objects, to what is dark and bright, to eventually conceptualize objects in their brains. By 6 months of age, their vision is 20/20 and they can see clearly. You may have noticed how difficult it is to change her diaper as she wants to roll to grab a toy or grab your necklace. How about doing baths? Aren’t they so slippery when slathered with soap and they try to check the washcloth? Always a good idea to keep one hand on her for safety while you are trying to do something with her.

With improved vision and having had six months to form a strong bond with you, she has started to recognize you as the person who is there to save the day! In addition, with all her touching, she has been curious about your face, eyes, ears, nose, and lips to begin to form personal awareness. This is the beginning of “object permanence” where you could disappear for a moment, and she knows you are just around the corner. Along with this concept, she will soon start to experience “stranger anxiety” when seeing other people (especially if they want to hold her) and may start protesting when you have these separations.

Gross Motor Development

Along with her interest to investigate everything comes her desire to acquire these objects. Movement, and the progression of gross motor development, goes in a very predictable fashion from the head down to the toes. First, muscle strength and coordination began at the neck and by four months of age, you might remember, you could pull her up from laying on her back and she did not have any more head lag. In addition, if you placed her on her tummy, she could put weight on her elbows and raise up her neck. The chest was off the table a little, but her stomach was flat on the table. Now, at six months, she can push up with her hands and raise her chest and tummy, but her pelvis and legs are flat on the floor. She has learned to “army crawl” or creep. If you stand her up, she stiffens her legs and pretends to jump, although her feet never leave the ground. Rolling over was a reflex at four months, sometimes startling her, but she does it now routinely. You can prop her up in a sitting position, but she does need her arms to “tripod” herself. If she tries to reach for an object, she falls easily because the tripod fell apart. She is not able to get to a sitting position by herself, but she will soon learn around nine months of age how to sit up by herself when she has learned how to crawl.

Her life is filled with frustration as she continues to exercise daily trying to accomplish these milestones, but it is in a way, a “happy frustration” because she is meeting goals. As part of this wonderful bond, you have formed with her, you have learned to be sensitive to her needs and know when to come to her aid when she seems defeated.

Fine Motor Development

Touching and grabbing to form concepts in her brain has been part of her development since birth. To develop her fine motor skills, however, she first had to get rid of her “primitive reflexes,” reflexes that she was born with, including the grasp reflex. By two months of age, she started to open her hands and was transferring objects from one hand to the other by four months of age. When she grabs objects, she uses the “rake” approach where she uses all her fingers and hand to grab an object. It will be exciting for you when she is around nine months of age, and you see her using her thumb and index finger as a pincer grasp to get an object.

So now that you are done reminiscing about her development for the past six months, it’s time to enjoy your visit with your parents. We hope you have a nice Memorial Day weekend!

A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners (first published on the Bronson Health web site)

References

  • Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development by T.Berry Brazelton, M.D.  A Merloyd Lawrence Book, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, M.D. Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Finding My Integrity with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

As we approach the month of June and celebrate the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I found myself in prayer, contemplating God’s boundless and passionate love for us.  I sometimes find praying in the Ignatian style to be helpful as I try to contemplate Jesus’ teachings.  Part of this prayer is to rely on my imagination as I place myself in the scene.  Dealing with the concepts of personal integrity and humility pushed me to be with Jesus at the last supper.

The Last Supper

It was evening and the air was cool.  The room was small but cozy, walls painted in light yellow and beige.  Pillows were on the floor and the disciples gathered at table with Jesus for his last supper.  We had lentil soup, bread, and wine.  We dipped our bread in freshly made olive oil made that week.  After we ate, Jesus stood up and got everybody’s attention.  The gospel of John 13: 4-51 recounts the story:

“So, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

When Jesus came to me, he knelt and grabbed my left foot.  The softness of his touch made me hold my breath.  As I looked down on him, I found myself thoughtless, wondering what I was going to feel.  I wanted to carry a conversation, but the moment told me to be still, to simply feel his presence and his care.  He washed my right foot and then dried both feet.  He looked at me one last time and smiled.  I returned a smiled.  I felt special by Jesus’ love and care.  I then felt a tear drop down my cheek.  My body became warm, and my palms got sweaty as I saw him move to the next disciple.

Jesus’ Identity

How confident was Jesus in who he was that he proceeded to kneel before us and wash our feet?  The gospel of John, again, helps us understand this identity:

Jesus is explaining to the Pharisees about the good Shepard and his sheep in John 10: 29-30.  They are wondering if he is the Messiah and who are his sheep.  Jesus replies, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Later, after Jesus explains to the disciples that he is the way and is going back to the father, Thomas wants Jesus to show him the Father.  Jesus replies, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, the Son of the Father, consubstantial with the Father.  The Holy Spirit binds them together, but also binds us together: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20).

What is Integrity and Humility?

It takes integrity, humility, and self-confidence to perform Jesus’ act of washing our feet as he taught us about serving one another.  He is not thinking highly of himself, and he is not exalting himself.  His firm confidence on who he was allowed him to kneel before me and wash my feet.  It would be natural to think like Peter and react with objection, “No … you shall never wash my feet.” (John 13:8).  But in accepting Jesus’ desire to wash my feet, I get to feel in my heart his sense of being one with the Father, full of love and mercy.  That feeling stirs my heart, and I feel compelled to pass on that love and mercy as well.

I decided to look up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of integrity: “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.”  I also recently read from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation2, “In great saints, you find that perfect humility and perfect integrity coincide.”

What is humility but being precisely the person that I am before God.  I am no greater than or smaller than I actually am.  If I think that I am greater than I am, and I am letting pride take over me.  If I think that I am being smaller than I am, I deprecate myself against God’s truth of who I am. I playdown and push away against God who is truth.  But God resides in me, and God’s divinity is my divinity … thus, this is part of my being that God wants me to attain.

In humility, as I acknowledge who I am as God sees me in a truthful manner, I consent to God being my all and I surrender myself to God.  So, what holds me back from being humble so that I can have integrity?

There are attachments to this world that pull me in one direction or another and don’t allow me to be my true self.  These attachments can be material, emotional or spiritual.  For example, I may feel attached to my house or car (like I really like them and can’t envision myself without them), or to money, to my body and health (I may worry and feel anxious about my health), or to anger and resentment, or as St. John of the Cross would say, even to certain forms of prayer.

The background noise in the world can also affect my integrity.  I want to gel with the current movements of thoughts and action.  I want to “fit in.”  These pressures, mainly stemmed from my desire to be accepted, can guide, and direct my thoughts and action.  I may run the risk of compromising my beliefs and values.  I may even be tempted to compromise my faith and my relationship with God.

Where do I go from here?

So how do I remain humble so that I can have integrity?  I lean on St. John of the Cross3 and try to die to myself slowly but steadily.  In detaching myself from the material, emotional and spiritual realms, I become naked before God, and let God see me as I am, as I truly am.  Here, I can let God look at me and love me with all my good qualities and faults.  In this relationship of love, God heals me and completes me.

As I look at Jesus one more time, His Sacred Heart overflowing with boundless love, compassion, and mercy, I can see he understands our brokenness and lack of integrity.  So, I ask Jesus to pray for me, a sinner with many faults, to heal me, to complete me.  In this month of June, what a good opportunity to ask Jesus to have mercy on us and heal us, to let us be open to his boundless and passionate love for us!

References:

  1. BibleGateway, New International Version.  https://www.biblegateway.com
  2. New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton. New Directions Book, 2007.  Original Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
  3. John of the Cross by Kieran Kavanaugh. The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.F

Daniel Rhodes

Finding God Again and Again by John Spitzer is a spellbinding spiritual odyssey that documents the author’s quest for intimacy with God after finding out that his testicular cancer has returned after thirteen years. The book started as a message to the author’s two children and quickly morphed into a spiritual book that is as resonant as it is inspiring. The author shares the experience of his mortality, faced with cancer, and the troubling thoughts that assailed him while he battled the disease with his wife. The quest for a deeper connection with God and the relationship with God as an experience through which we re-define authenticity and find our real identity are recurrent themes in this book, and the acute awareness of his mortality drove the author to re-embrace his faith, seeking God with sincerity and in truth. This book tells the author’s story while providing valuable spiritual lessons on finding God and embracing Him in our hearts.

John Spitzer’s book is a rare gift of love and faith that brilliantly captures the author’s experience of God’s unconditional love. The title is suggestive of the indisputable truth that God can be lost, but it also reiterates the hope that He can be found, again, and again, and again. The author writes about the place of prayer in the economy of human growth and explores the different kinds of prayers.

But in a nutshell, this book is about self-discovery and the discovery of God. The author identifies two movements of the heart — one that questions who we really are and one that seeks God: “I believe that in the depths of our hearts, we have two main yearnings: we yearn to find who we are, hopefully, to find out we are as God made us to be; and we yearn for love, hopefully realizing that it is God’s love we are looking for.” The link between his identity and his relationship with God is intelligently written and it provides answers to the perpetual ache of the human heart — the ache that nothing can sooth and the void that only God’s endearing and unconditional love can fill.

Finding God Again and Again is crafted in gorgeous prose and in a voice that is compassionate and filled with honesty. John Spitzer’s book is sprinkled with spiritual wisdom and insight, a book that will inspire faith and provide a path for many to find God and themselves.

Reviewed by Daniel Rhodes, May 9, 2022
The Book Commentary
Comstock Park, Michigan

Teenage Mindfulness this Spring

With the stresses of daily life and ongoing uncertainty in the world, it is no surprise that teens may feel disinterested and just want to tune everything out.  Is it possible that we can help our teenagers be mindful in the moment?   Is it possible we can invite them to experience other ways to relax and release some tension?

The laughter coming from the backyard catches my attention as I look out our kitchen window and contemplate the sun piercing through the clouds and blue sky. I can see the play structure as my son standing in the tower chats with his friend Trevor, who sits at the bottom of the slide. Richie is swinging pretty high after being pushed by Lauren, and Joe is chasing Billy with a water gun as they loop around the fortress (names have been changed to protect their privacy). It is mid-afternoon Saturday and they have chosen to escape their “teenage” world and dive into the playground, reminiscing and enjoying their days when they were much younger and did not have to worry about the challenges of being in high school.

Teens face many challenges as they move from middle school to high school. Not only do they desire to have more independence as they seek more activities, but more responsibility is thrown their way as well – both from parents and teachers. The way that they handle the stresses of life can depend on so many factors, including their temperament and personality; their previous life experiences, and the resilience they may have developed through these experiences; the activities they participate in and how busy they feel; their friendships and whether or not they feel support from those relationships; and their home life and family support. Add to the mix that they start to experience growth spurts, hormone changes and romantic feelings, and life can feel complicated.

Mental Health Problems

Anxiety can pop up easily in teenagers as they try to navigate their adolescence. About 1 in 3 teens may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder with symptoms that become significant enough to disrupt their daily life. One of the major factors that often lead to anxiety and mental health problems amongst teens is high expectations. This can include the expectation to perform well, or act, look or “be” a specific way. These expectations may be self-imposed, be caused by parental pressure, or simply our American culture to achieve and be the best.

COVID-19 and Uncertain Futures

Mental health has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought on virtual learning and major uncertainty about their futures (as highlighted in a recent New York Times article, titled 12 Teenagers on What Adults Don’t Get About Their Lives). Additionally, a recent Washington Post article mentions the concern that the CDC has for declining mental health in teens. In “A Cry for Help:” CDC Warns of Steep Decline in Mental Health, Moriah Balingit stated that “more than 4 in 10 teens [report] they feel ‘persistently sad or hopeless,’ and 1 in 5 [say] they have contemplated suicide.”

Social Issues, War and Violence

In addition, our world continues to be complicated by social issues, which seem to always be bombarding our psyches. Poverty, homelessness and hunger affect not only developing countries but here in our own country as well. Other areas of concern include climate change, civil rights and discrimination, gender inequality and gender dysphoria, and immigration challenges The current generation of kids and teens are very socially conscious and want to make an impact in our world.

The war in Ukraine has touched all of us. It is natural to feel empathy and sadness, particularly for those who have relatives there. Schools continue to have lockdowns and drills to address shootings, which can potentially cause emotional stresses perhaps not too different from the Ukraine war. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to restrict activities and to wear masks on a regular basis. It is no wonder that going out in public can create some degree of stress and anxiety, even for us adults – so again, no wonder our teens may be feeling this way too.

Social Media and The Need to “Fit In”

being connected to social media has its positive effects, but can also create enormous negative energy. Today’s teens are very connected and aware of what is going on, not just in their friends’ lives, but also in the lives of everyone around them and so many larger world events. Imperfections are all erased, and “only edited for perfection,” unattainable standard is loud and clear. Appearances carry a lot of weight, to the point that it can be very distressing when posts are negative or offensive to others, or a teen is lead to believe everyone else’s life is perfect.

With all of these daily stresses and looming uncertainty, it is no surprise that sometimes teens feel like just going to their room and tuning things out. They find security in their chats and by posting how they feel. But is it possible we can invite them to experience other ways to relax and release some tension?

More likely than not, there’s going to be some resistance, as venturing out into another activity may rock their boat. But with a little love, some humor and teasing, maybe using words to expand their imagination, we can talk them into going on an adventure with us and enjoy nature, even if it’s just for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. We may not have to go far to experience the wildlife here in our own home of southwest Michigan. One of our nurses used to keep in our office a book about the different birds in our area so kids could identify them as the birds flew by our exam rooms and kids could see them through the windows. Try taking your camera or your phone and capture some of the birds perched on a branch or chasing each other as if they were flying and playing in their own backyard. Perhaps do a nature scavenger hunt walk with phone cameras.

What Can We Do? Where Can We Go?

  • The Kalamazoo Nature Center website shares its mission statement, “A not-for-profit organization whose mission is to create relationships & experiences that welcome and inspire people to discover, enjoy, value and care for nature. KNC envisions a resilient community where all people have strong interconnections with the natural world.”
  • Asylum Lake is a 274-acre parcel owned by Western Michigan University, located by Drake Road and Parkview Avenue. It supports multiple habitat types including oak savanna, prairie, forest, wet meadow, emergent marsh, shrub carr and two lakes. Birds fly in every so often so it’s good to have your camera ready.
  • The Kleinstuck Preserve is also a 48-acre nature preserve owned by Western Michigan University. As stated on their webpage, “This unique ecosystem includes upland forest, swamp forest, shrub carr and marshland which are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Some of Kleinstuck’s special features include a beautiful showcase of native wildflowers in the springtime and a highly diverse bird population. The property is open to the public for passive recreation and is used by WMU and other educational institutions for research and education.”
  • Celery Flats in Portage, as stated on their website, “Is really a ‘park within a park.’ A key element of the Portage Creek Bicentennial Park, Celery Flats, has two distinct settings. On the north side of Garden Lane, the Celery Flats Pavilion offers a nice open-air seating area, picnic tables, restrooms and an air station. The Celery Flats Historical Area, with several relocated and restored buildings, is located south of Garden Lane. The Historical Area is the site of many community events and several of the buildings can be reserved for private group use.”
  • The Kal-Haven Trail is, as stated on their website, “33.5 miles between Kalamazoo and South Haven in southwest Michigan. The trail rests on an abandoned railroad bed constructed in 1871. The converted rail-trail winds through gorgeous scenery including wooded areas, farmlands, streams and rivers.”

Consider getting the All Trails: Hike, Bike & Run app as a guide to the outdoors. I found a number of other app’s on my phone that help me discover what’s in my “own backyard.”

So as spring rolls around the corner and we find ways to get outside and experience life, perhaps this might be an occasion to create some bonding time with your teen and spend it in nature. A couple of hours away from the house and disconnected from social media might release some Dopamine from that “feel-good” center of the brain. And who knows, this just might be the break that the doctor ordered to help our kids get back their self-confidence, release some tension and stress, and tackle that school project they’ve been wanting to finish.

(A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners, was first published on Bronson’s Blog Page on April 15, 2022)

References:

Fear and War

I have found myself in this time of lent thinking about the temptations I suffer as a falling creature from heaven.  As I see myself in the context of today’s world of war and with the difficulties we have in working together as a community, the temptation of power has surfaced to the top as something to work on.  With this backdrop, I have found myself in prayer meditating and discerning with Jesus and the disciples how to deal with the temptation of power as I acknowledge that I may be experiencing fear and anxiety about the future, perhaps feeling a sense of uncertainty and loss of control.

In the gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus predicting his death three times.

 

Jesus Predicts His Death (Mark 8:31-33)1

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Sometimes I can feel the need to exert my power, even to the point of going against God’s divine providence.

 

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time (Mark 9:30-37)

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

I may even feel the need to exert my power over others.  I wonder if the disciples felt anxiety and a lack of direction as they wondered what Jesus was trying to tell them, and what it meant for them.

 

Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time (Mark 10:32-34)

32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

The temptation of power can bring out the worst in me, even to the point of “mocking and spitting” when I feel threatened by others, but it can be more subtle as I try to control other’s thoughts and actions.  During this lent, I can be honest with myself and acknowledge that this negative energy resides within me.  I can then go down on my knees, and as the man with leprosy who desires a cure from Jesus, I too ask, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

This passion that Jesus talks about is the way of the cross that will be an example for me to deal with my passions, and in this specific story, to deal with the temptation of power.  But to approach this event and carry my own cross, I must be honest with myself to identify my passions, and then humble myself before God as I acknowledge that this cross is very heavy to carry by myself and I must do so with Jesus’ help.  St. Augustine, in one of his sermons, explains:

“Observe a tree, how it first reaches downwards so that it may then shoot upwards. It sinks its roots deep into the ground so that its top may reach towards the skies.  Is it not from humility that it endeavors to grow? But without humility it will not reach higher.   You want to grow up into the air without roots.  That is not growth, but collapse.”2

When we are in this state of being separated from God and falling to these temptations, then we experience what Thomas Merton is saying in New Seeds of Contemplation3,

  • We cannot trust each other
  • We hate ourselves
  • We tend to ease our burden of guilt that is in us by passing it on to others
  • We build an obsession with evil
  • We associate failure (punishment) with dishonesty and guilt

What Thomas Merton then proposes is:

  • We must try to accept ourselves in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil
  • We have to respect our own rights so we can respect the rights of others
  • We have to learn to trust God that God can protect men unaccountably against themselves, and that God can always turn evil into good
  • If we can trust and love God, we can love men who are evil. We can learn to love them in their sin as God loves them in their sin
  • If we can love the men we do not trust and share their burden of sin by identifying ourselves with them, then perhaps there’s some hope of peace on earth

By experiencing Jesus’ passion on the cross, I too can overcome my passions so that I can live with God’s free gifts and follow the teachings of Jesus as he states in the Sermon on the Mount, with meekness, humility, and purity of heart.  In this state of peace, I can then pass on love to others as Jesus passes his love to me.

References

  1. Bible Gateway, New International Version.
  2. Excerpt from the Gospel of John, Sermon 38.2, St, Augustine
  3. New Seeds of Contemplation, Chapter 18, The Root of War is Fear, Thomas Merton. New Directions Books, 2007.  Copyright 1961, Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.

Self-Efficacy in your Children

“You got this,” Self-Efficacy in your Children

Sometimes psychology terms get confusing for me.  Here are three that are on my mind:

Self-confidence:  One’s own sense of self-worth

Resilience:  the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (Webster Dictionary)

Self-Efficacy:  the belief in my ability to succeed in achieving a goal. (Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist and professor at Stanford University, 1977).

One of the challenges we have as parents is trying to raise our sons and daughters to become successful kids who can later become productive members of society.  Not caring enough or not getting involved and we have kids who sail without direction, lost and without purpose.  Too much involvement and we behave like helicopter parents, setting them up for anxiety and depression later on.  Where is the middle, we may ask?

What is Self-Efficacy?

As noted above, in self-efficacy, we develop the belief that we can achieve anything.  We have the confidence to know that we can do whatever we set our mind to.  We do this by managing how we think (we control our thoughts and learn how to become optimists), how we feel (we control our emotions and better yet, realize we have the power to manage our emotions) and how we behave (we control our actions).

The Main Ingredients for Self-Efficacy

  • Bandura believes there are four main sources that influence the development of self-efficacy:
  • Mastery of Experiences, one’s previous experiences, particularly success. In essence, success breeds success.
  • Vicarious experiences, where seeing others succeed helps us develop the confidence and visualization that we too can succeed.
  • Social Persuasion, where coaching and getting feedback by others helps us develop the skills necessary for success.
  • Emotional, physical, and psychological well-being can influence our feel about our personal abilities. Eating well, exercising, getting a good night sleep can affect our beliefs in ourselves.

Suggestions for Self-Efficacy

Here are a few suggestions to help your child develop self-efficacy:

  • Set goals
  • Have them do things they like to do
  • Have them try new things and face the challenges
  • Teach them to accept failures and criticism in a positive light
  • Reframe obstacles with positive interventions
  • Approach goals slowly and don’t let them get over-stressed about the ultimate results.

Interesting enough, self-efficacy helps with the development of self-confidence and resilience.

References:

Bandura, Albert (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman. p. 604. ISBN 978-0-7167-2626-5.

Lopez-Garrido, G.  https://www.simplypsychology.org/self-efficacy.html.  August 2020.

Mamie Morrow, Why Self-Efficacy Matters, TEDx Talk, May 29, 2019

Jessica Lahey, How to Lower Your Child’s Risk for Addiction, The New York Times, March 31, 2021.